Forget for a second about how transparent the Nationals' attempts at legitimizing their existence have been: It's still fun to have something to talk about, isn't it? While conventional wisdom suggests that perceived underdog should do everything in its power to maintain its status, Washington realizes that its biggest opponent is still fan apathy. Their spring training braggadocio will prove worthwhile if it leads to more seats that are occupied by rear ends, because rear ends belong to human beings and human beings spend money and money is something Washington will be able to use to surround its talented young core with even more talent.
Today, though, the question is about that young core, and just how talented it may or may not be. As you may have heard, Nationals manager Davey Johnson compared his starting pitching trio of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann to the Phillies' Big Three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.
“Their top three versus our top three, stuff-wise, we match up as good,” Johnson said, according to the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore.
Now, some of the sillier stories in sports are the ones about a manager or coach saying he would take his guys over anybody in the league. What else is the guy going to say? And you'll note that Johnson couched his statement with the all-important "stuff-wise." He's not saying his three are necessarily better - he's just saying they have elite stuff too.
But because it is Sunday morning and we are running on one fewer hour of sleep and Phillies camp has been relatively drama-free, let's take a quick look at how Strasburg-Gonzalez-Zimmermann match-up with Halladay/Lee/Hamels.
Note - We're using Zimmermann instead of Edwin Jackson because that is who Johnson was talking about. Zimmermmann, Gonzalez and Strasburg are all young pitchers who are under club control for the next several seasons. Jackson is on a one-year deal.
Combined statistics over last two seasons
What you see is the difference between three potential-laden pitchers who have good "stuff," and three horses. The Nationals' rate stats are excellent (although the Phillies' Big Three still allow nearly a half earned run less than Washington's every nine innings). But the huge luxury the Phillies enjoy is the workload: Halladay/Lee/Hamels have more than doubled the Nationals' innings total over the last three seasons. More than a sixth of their starts have been complete games, including 12 shutouts. In short, there is no question that Nationals have a bright future. But they still have a lot to prove before they rival the Phillies' stable of horses.